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Category: Amy Gofton

The UW Outliers Political Association: Positive Friction

By Amy Rose Gofton

The UW Outliers Political Association started out as a joke between friends. Keenan Courtez and Caleb Coté, both in second year, asked themselves what a political club with no political ideology would look like. The joke quickly turned into a question. We asked ourselves, “what if it did have a mandate?” Courtez said. Courtez and Coté pitched the idea to Meaghan Mechler, a friend and an Environment student. She’s the “CEO type figure” Courtez said. Caleb is the “documenter,” and “[Courtez is] more ideas and direction.”

Courtez recalls seeing the booths at Clubs Day and realizing how much “the political spectrum on campus is compartmentalized.” It’s “un-engaging”, he says. That’s when Courtez and Coté began to visualize a club that actively promoted political friction, rather than suppressed it. We want friction. We want people that have different ideas,” Courtez said, describing the ideal outcome of the club as a “Petri dish of people.” It’s about “how you think, not what you think.” The more they talked about the group, the more they realized an opening for it existed. “As we talked about it in the off campus community, people started to say, hey we don’t have that,” Courtez said.

In the Fall term, they called themselves The UW Outliers Political Association, applied for club status and were granted it, with their first meeting being in November. The group hopes to gain new members and lay the groundwork for club activities in the Winter term. The Outliers see themselves as “member centric,” and as an “enclosed conversation club.” Although the Outliers have no concrete plans yet for club activities, Courtez hinted that a few unique ideas had been thrown around at the planning meeting. Success for the club, Courtez says, will mean seeing new members—students he’s never met before—in executive positions.

The club’s constitution says that the purpose of the club is “to gather UW students, staff and faculty to further the discussion of alternative political thought. We plan to hold meetings, educational seminars, social outings, and other club events.” Although not geared towards making change, the UW Outliers Political Association is a unique project, designed to encourage the UW community to consider, express and argue their political opinions.

Readers can find the UW Outliers on Facebook:


SLC Kiosks Not Worth the Cost

By Amy Rose Gofton

Photo Taken By Amy Rose

Photo Taken By Amy Rose

I’ve been lost in the SLC a time or two, searching hard for obscure room numbers, but I’ve always found my way by consulting a map on the wall or flagging down a friendly face. In first year, I discovered what services were available in the SLC by visiting the university website and wandering the floors to familiarize myself with the space. Just as I’ve learned to know my way around the PAS and Hagey Hall, I have also learned the layout of the SLC.

Feds has a plan—in the form of three MappedIn Kiosks—to end the confusion and wandering of students and help people find their way around the SLC, but only the SLC. Ben Balfour, Feds VP of Operations & Finance responded to an email from the Chevron: “The University is working with MappedIn to install similar kiosks in the future” for other parts of campus Balfour said, but he could not confirm whether Feds would “integrate the map layouts” of all the future kiosks on campus. Balfour said he is “hopeful that there will be that possibility.” For now, Feds’ $44,183 investment ($13,400 from the Student Life Endowment Fund and $30,783 from Feds itself) will only be of use to students when they are in the SLC.

MappedIn, the company providing the kiosks, is local. Founded by former UW students, they specialize in “wayfinding.” According to the company website, they create custom software and 3D maps which are accessible from their kiosks as well as computer browsers and phones. Oddly, the website does not contain any pictures of the kiosks. A twitter search revealed a “kiosk” which resembled an over-sized tablet on a base that was installed at the Velocity Foundry in September.

Although the list price for the kiosks is $14,500 each, Ben Balfour said that Feds, by “moving quickly and combining with another larger order” was “able to secure them at a cost of $10,900 each.” Feds also signed a three year agreement with MappedIn, ensuring that fees for “all management panel access, system support, maintenance, and licensing have been waived.” Without this agreement, Feds would spend approximately $18,000 a year on maintenance and other costs for the system.

Balfour said he is unsure what the cost to continue using the system after the three year deal will be. “If the project is deemed valuable for students,” Feds will renegotiate.

From an idealistic point of view, Feds’ MappedIn plan sounds like a great idea. The system is modern; it’s technology for a tech-savvy university. However, can we really justify the cost? More than $44,000 for a computer system that will help us find our way around only one building on campus? Personally, I can think of a better use for part of that $44,183; for instance, the women’s washroom on the SLC main floor is rundown, poorly lit and often disgusting.


Relevant Reading For Interested Students:

Here’s how easy it is to learn about SLC services now:

Colonialism panel discussion

by Amy Rose Gofton

On Thursday, October 2nd at 7 pm, around 150 people gathered in RCH 301 for the panel discussion, “They Came in Ships: Settler Colonialism from Turtle Island to Palestine”. The event, hosted by the Palestine Solidarity Action Group (PSAG), Grand River Indigenous Solidarity (GRIS) and the Waterloo Public Interest Research Group (WPIRG), focused on settler colonialism in both North America and Israel/Palestine. The panel was well received by students, who applauded and listened intently throughout the presentation.

The event began with a brief reminder that students were at UW, on occupied Six Nations Land. Then, each member of the panel was asked to give a brief presentation. The three person panel featured Gabriel Piterberg, a professor of history at the University of California, Dalee Sambo Dorough, an associate professor at the University of Alaska and chair of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples, and Sara Matthews, an associate Professor of Global Studies at Wilfred Laurier and a member of QAIA (Queers Against Israeli Apartheid), a group dedicated to encouraging the queer community to become politically involved.
Dalee Sambro Dorough spoke first, focusing on the role law plays in colonialism. “Indigenous peoples have been largely subjugated and dominated through the use of law,” she explained. Although “indigenous peoples across the globe have all the attributes of . . . nation state[s],” including language, culture, forms of government, social control, protocol and rules of membership, foreign law is still used to legitimize control over indigenous peoples. Despite attempts to “pry open the doors” of international law, it has been difficult. She cited the 2007 UN document,

“The Universal Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People,” as a victory, but lamented Canada’s failure to step whole-heartedly behind the document, which lays out a number of basic rights for indigenous peoples. Gabriel Piterberg spoke after Dorough, switching the focus towards Israel/Palestine. He described the Palestinians not as simply an oppressed population, but as an indigenous group subjected to settler colonialism. Piterberg differentiated between settler and metropole colonialism. Metropole colonialism, he said, is more like “Ulysses” — the colonizers arrive and then leave — while settler colonialism is more like the Aeneid, where the colonizers arrive and intend never to leave. Israel has created a “pure settlement colony,” Piterberg said; they want the land, but they do not want the indigenous labour. However, he expressed optimism, noting that unlike the majority of disposed indigenous peoples, the Palestinians maintain a significant and internationally legitimate claim to sovereignty. Sara Matthews bridged the gap between Piterberg and Dorough, by speaking about her own efforts with QAIA. Matthews described the opposition QAIA faces from Toronto politicians who believe that politics have no place in the Toronto Pride Parade. She chalked this opposition up to neoliberalism. Matthews also used the term “Pinkwashing,” a phrase she and QAIA use to describe Israel’s attempts to market itself as a liberal and tolerant state, hospitable to the LGBTQ community. Just as Greenwashing distracts from environmental harms, Pinkwashing is a tactic used to distract the international community from addressing the occupation.

After a spokesperson for the event posed a couple of questions to the panel, an audience Q&A session began. Many of the questions from students were directed towards Gabriel Piterberg and involved Israel/Palestine. In response to one question, Piterberg suggested that “the solution” in Israel/Palestine “is to take everyone that is already there and create something,” rather than to try and dismantle the colonial settlement.

The event concluded around 9:30 pm. A social gathering was held at the Graduate House afterwards for those who wished to talk directly with the panel members or discuss the event.

Demilitarize McGill: Questionable research on campuses

by Amy Rose Gofton

The university as an institution is a place of learning, but it is also a place of research. Demilitarize McGill, an anti-military research and recruitment organization with an average membership of between 7 and 20 people, at McGill University understands the research side of the institution all too well. According to the Demilitarize website, they have a self-appointed mandate to “interrupt the University’s history of complicity in colonization and imperialist warfare by ending military collaboration at McGill.” In practice, this translates into an opposition of military research and recruitment on their campus.

Focusing on education and direct action, Demilitarize McGill has submitted Access To Information Requests to both their university and the military, run workshops and walking tours, and even blockaded research labs. One blockade, members of Demilitarize McGill say, “ended with the university adminis-
tration calling the Montreal police onto campus.” A banner was seized and protestors were forced to disperse, but no arrests were made.

Demilitarize McGill believes that allowing their university to continue military funded or aimed research on their campus perpetuates the “military-industrial complex.” In other words, they believe the research on their campus contributes to the ability of political, military and corporate actors to collaborate in the waging of wars. Unfortunately, universities—which receive both
public and private funding—serve as convenient places for these actors to exploit labour and resources, as they do not need to fully fund the research themselves.

The exposing of military research at McGill dates back to 1984, when journalists from the McGill Daily revealed the Canadian Department of Defence funded fuel-air explosives research on the campus. The current Demilitarize McGill, which was reincarnated in 2012, draws on the spirit of that discovery, and has uncovered a number of concerning research areas. They allege
that documents, obtained by an Access To Information Request, show that drone research at the university’s Mechatronics Lab received $380,000 from the Department of National Defence. Demilitarize McGill has also raised concerns about Missile Guidance research and anti-icing research for fighter jets. The group is es- pecially concerned with the continued work of the Shock Wave Physics group—a group Demilitarize McGill says was once directly funded by U.S grants.

More recently, Demilitarize McGill has raised concerns over a psychology study in which 80 Somali Canadians participated in a survey gathering information on identity issues. An article published by the Montreal Gazette says the survey studied the participant’s adjustment to life in Canada, but was also interested in what factors might lead them to
affiliations with terrorist organizations. The participants were not informed that funding for the study came from the DRDC (Defence Research and Development Canada). Although McGill
University says no rules were broken in not disclosing the funding for the study, Demilitarize McGill refers to it “as a serious breach of research ethics,” and vows to pressure
McGill University into creating better policy.

There is no question that military research has taken place and is taking place at McGill University, but what about our own campus? How much does the average student know about the
research that goes on here at the University of Waterloo? UW’s motto is that “ideas start here,” but how much attention does the average student really pay to those ideas? Every week or so, we
see the Waterloo Facebook page updated with news of new research: “Groundbreaking Study Reveals Best Sex Positions to Save Spines,” or “Very Low Nicotine Cigarettes May Reduce Addiction.” While much of the UW research we hear about sounds very ethical and at times very helpful, at a University of our size, which is constantly expanding, we must keep in mind the possibility if ethical breaches in research on campus. Demilitarize McGill, when asked how students at other universities (such as UW) can find out if military-related or ethically suspect research is taking place on their campus, recommended filing Access to Information Requests to the Department of National Defense and the University (as some military-related research is funded by private companies). “We also find lots of information just by doing internet research,” the group said. “It’s just a matter of digging up the details.” Demilitarize McGill said they are “very willing to help . . . students at other universities find out if . . . [military research] is going on where they are studying.”

What Demilitarize McGill has proved is that it is possible for students to discover and respond to policies that violate the right of students to study and work in an environment which does not contribute to the waging of war. If, at any time, research or university policy at UW crosses an ethical boundary, we as students must, and can, be prepared to raise a voice in complaint and take action to ensure that our University’s policies match the desires of its student body.

What is our provincial government doing for students?

Author: Amy Rose Gofton

Last June 12th, while many of the students on this campus were away and in a summer frame of mind, the provincial election culminated into a Liberal Majority government. During the campaign, Kathleen Wynne promised that, if re-elected, her party would keep the 30%-off tuition grant in place. Three months later, it appears that the Liberals will keep their word. As they should. The 30%-off tuition grant was, after all, a Liberal initiative back in 2012. During the campaign, the Conservatives claimed they would cancel the grant if elected. Regardless of whether or not we as students believe the grant is accessible enough, or provides enough monetary relief, having it in place is better than not having it at all.

In 2013 the Liberals pledged to cap rising tuition rates at a 3% increase per year. With the Liberals re-elected, the 3% increase will remain. If, instead, we had elected an NDP government, perhaps Andrea Horwath would have followed through with her pledge to freeze tuition rates at current levels and to eliminate the provincial portion of interest on student loans, but there is no reason to ponder what might have been. The question that needs to be asked now is what plans does the Liberal government have in store for Ontario post-secondary education in the future?

In a document on the website of the Ontario Liberals titled “Building a Stronger Post Secondary System”, a number of initiatives and promises are presented. Starting Fall 2015, any student taking a 70 percent course load or less will have to be charged on a per-credit basis, rather than a flat rate. The document also explains that plans are in the works to expand campuses in underserved areas and provide space for an additional 60,000 postsecondary students. The Liberals plan to work with municipalities, colleges and universities across the province to implement expansions. The government has put out a call for proposals to expand and create new campuses. The deadline for proposals is the 26th of September, 2014.

On July 3rd, the Speech From Throne was read to open the 41st parliament. The speech included direct references to investing in education and skills training, to ensuring more students receive postsecondary education, to building new campuses and to increasing access to French-language programs. The speech describes “public investments to develop the talent and skills of our people . . . not [as] a luxury,” but as an investment in the future. The actual budget, to the dismay of many interest groups, contains no new funding for improved access or affordability of post-secondary education. However, the government still claims that by 2025 Ontario will boast a postsecondary attainment rate of above 70%.

In the three months since the June election, the Liberals have talked, minimally about ways to help students, but they have little to show in terms of action. According to a report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives printed in the July/August Issue of the CCPA Monitor, Ontario students are still paying, on average, the highest tuition rates in this country. It takes 2.7 times the hours of work to pay for an average Ontario tuition today than it did in 1975. While the Liberals may have pride in their plan to create more spaces and larger campuses for students, it matters little if the affordability and the quality of our education system continues to go downhill.

Justin Trudeau visits UW

Author: Amy Rose Gofton

On Wednesday, September 10th at 2 pm, Justin Trudeau was on campus in the SLC to give a speech and host a Q&A session. Students packed the Great Hall, pulling up chairs and politely cramming in as close to the stage as allowed. Cameras were set up and cell phones came out to take video and pictures.

Trudeau began his speech by sharing his views on young people’s involvement in politics. He stated that students are not disinterested, as is often said, and used the packed Great Hall as a representation of student interest in politics. He referred to university students as the “Class of 2015” voters, since many of us will be voting in a federal election for the very first time. Trudeau also spoke about the environment and the economy, telling students they must pressure political leaders into thinking long-term rather than short term. He also touched on the need to minimize divisions in politics in order to govern the whole. He rejected partisan politics and the playing of regions and demographics off each-other in order to get votes, while subtly accusing the Conservatives of doing so.

A Q&A session followed the short speech. UW students who raised their hands and were picked were able to freely ask any question they wished—a practice which is quickly disappearing in an age where many political appearances are scripted right down to the number of hands that will be shaken. Students questioned Justin Trudeau on everything from the gap between rich and poor, childcare, tuition rates, terrorism, government surveillance, pipelines and electoral reform.

Trudeau rejected the idea of eliminating or minimizing tuition rates, saying instead the student loan and bursary system needs to be overhauled. He rejected the option of electoral reform through a Proportional Representation system, voicing support for Preferential Balloting instead, saying it would reduce partisanship. Trudeau also voiced support for a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine, a statement which caused the crowd of the students to clap and cheer.

When asked a question about the legalization of marijuana, Trudeau paused and sat down for a moment before answering. The current methods of control are not “protecting our kids,” he said, stating that in Canada it is relatively easy for minors to obtain the drug. Trudeau implied that through legalization and control marijuana could more easily be kept out of the hands of minors. Incidentally, buttons reading Legalize It, issued by the Young Liberals of Canada, were given out at the event.

Near the end of the Q&A, Trudeau accused the Conservatives of mismanaging the economy, saying that “Conservatives always go into a deficit” and “provide spectacularly bad government.” For someone who consistently rejects partisan politics, Justin Trudeau managed to slip an awful lot of jabs at the Conservatives into his speech, as well as the Q&A.

Sovereignty Again

Author: Amy Rose Gofton

On April 7th, Québécois will vote for a new provincial government in an election called by Parti Québécois (PQ) leader and Premier of Québec, Pauline Marois. In the first days of the election campaign, parties latched onto a familiar topic – sovereignty and the prospect of another referendum. Once the talk of sovereignty reached the ears of the press, there was no laying the rumours to rest. During the leaders’ debate on March 20th, mingled with talk of economics, social infrastructure, governance and national identity, sovereignty, the topic which refuses to die, crawled slowly on and infiltrated nearly every discussion. Marois says that no referendum will take place until Québécois are ready for one. What she means by “ready” is unclear. Sovereignty talk has become almost a default setting for Québec’s politics.

Québec’s sovereignty is a long-running issue filled with complexities. There is no shortage of books and articles on the subject. After years of Québec sovereignty rolling to the surface and two different referenda (one in 1980 and one in 1995), the public attitude seems to be one of exhaustion and disinterest. Especially with students of our generation, the mere mention of the subject often brings eye-rolls, sighs and sarcastic laughter. Québec’s sovereignty is like that one student in the lecture hall who feels the need to challenge the authority of the professor and the structure of the system. Before long, the rest of the students just wish that troublesome student would shut their mouth and sometimes they even tell the student to do so. Eventually, the others get wrapped up with their own affairs and simply ignore the troublesome student, who continues to protest from a corner.

What disturbs me is the “othering” mentality in some Canadians. I’ve heard the people of Québec called “Frenchies” and I once heard someone announce that Québécois should all “go back to France.” So much for peace, love and diversity. To tell Québec to just leave Canada, or to sit back and silently watch as it happens, is to cut out a vital organ and expect the body to continue standing.

Chances are, Québec won’t be attempting to leave anytime soon, as the province has been mulling over the prospect for decades. There’s no reason why this decade would be the decade of severance, but then again, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be. To lose Québec would be to lose an angle of our culture and a large chunk of our economy. I’ve heard people say that if Québec separates they will be serving themselves, economically, a death sentence. I would go further and say that the loss of Québec would be a death sentence for the whole country.

Canada is divided into regions, many of which have a history of feeling excluded. If Québec were to secede, the image of the country that Canadians carry around in their heads would be shattered. Federalism would have failed. What deterrence would there be to stop other provinces from deciding to make a leap for sovereignty as well?

Ultimately, if Québec made the decision to secede, what right would the rest of Canadians have to try and stop them? There is never any use in trying to hold on to someone or something which does not wish to stay. The idea of a united Canada from coast to coast has always and will always hold a special place in my mind and I would do all I can to convince the people of Québec that Canada is a country worth staying in. I hope that each student on this campus would too, but perhaps not. The principle of laissez-faire seems to have transferred from economics to politics.

A Fair Elections Act?

Author: Amy Rose Gofton

On February 4th, 2014, Bill C-23, better known as the Fair Elections Act was given its first reading in The House of Commons. Bill C-23 contains roughly 244 pages of revisions, many directly addressing the Canada Elections Act. Revisions to the Canada Elections Act — a piece of legislation outlining rules and processes for Federal elections — are not rare. Bill C-23’s amendments however have stirred the dust, unsettling opposition parties and the media.

As with many political issues, the bill has been largely ignored by students on campus. The little coverage Bill C-23 has received comes in the form of a short Imprint opinion article by Ann Balasubramaniam — a letter addressed to “Minister Braid” criticizing the bill’s impact on the ability of students to easily vote— and MP Peter Braid’s reply in the form of a letter to the editor which appeared in the February 28th issue. I’m not one to agree with Conservatives, but in this case Braid was right to say, in his letter to the Imprint, that Bill C-23 will not inhibit the ability of students to vote.

The media at large and the opposition parties have latched onto the amendments to voter identification as their chief objection to the bill. Initially, I too felt grave concern at the removal of vouching. Vouching is a practice in which one elector confirms the identity of another, when an elector does not have government issued photo-ID, or the two pieces of other identification—one containing a current address, and both containing a full name—which are used to prove identity before voting. According to an NDP online petition titled Stand Up For Canadian Democracy, more than 120,000 Canadians vote through the vouching method.

After a careful reading of the relevant sections of Bill C-23, I can tell you that the removal of vouching is nothing to fuss over. Visit the Elections Canada Website and you will discover long lists of possible identification that can be used to vote. Everything from your library card to your vehicle insurance and credit card statement are valid. There is no reason why a student on this campus, or anywhere else in Canada, should not be able to produce some form of relevant documentation.

While attention has been focused on the voter identification amendment, the bill also features a change to the role of the Chief Electoral Officer, which will also restructure the Elections Canada system. The Chief Electoral Officer will be limited under section 17 of the Amended Act to inform electors how to vote and to ensure that votes are collected and counted properly. Theoretically, this could prevent Elections Canada from offering educational materials to schools, or running outreach programs to encourage our youth to vote. The Bill also changes the way in which the Chief Elections Officer is appointed.

Additionally, funds used by political parties to raise money will be exempt from calculation as election expenses. The Green Party’s Elizabeth May during the second reading of the bill on February 11th referred to this amendment as “a new loophole to spend money,” a way to “open the door to abuse.” She warned that Bill C-23 would “weaken our electoral system.”

I can’t help but wonder why so few ordinary people are talking about the Fair Elections Act. The vouching issue aside, Bill C-23 will significantly restructure the way our electoral system’s bureaucracy functions, and loosen restraints on election spending. The very least we as students can do is sign one of the many online petitions. More importantly, we can talk about the bill, read the bill and we can inform others in our campus and communities.

The Senate: Pay attention

Author: Amy Rose Gofton

Recently, I sent away for a stack of the ““Senate Hall of Shame”” collector’s’ cards the New Democratic Party (NDP) has been giving away. Each card features a slightly grainy and unflattering image of a Conservative or Liberal Senator, with a quick bio outlining their “”wrongs”.” Also included on each card is a massive monetary figure, in each case, exceeding $1 million; this is what, according to the NDP, each Senator will cost taxpayers over the course of their careers.
Putting aside the cards’’ obvious propagandism (we are having an eating contest next year), they do provide Canadians and those residing in Canada, with some things to think about. The Senate, whose members are appointed for life, is funded by taxpayer money. If, indeed, taxpayer money is being wasted, shouldn’’t the taxpayers demand action? Who are the taxpayers?
If you’re like me and you hold a job to pay for schooling, then you’’re probably a taxpayer. If, like many students, you’’re not working, then you’’ll be a taxpayer a couple years from now. We as students, make up a significant portion of taxpayers and future taxpayers, yet most of us are paying little to no attention to the scandals and skirmishes occurring in Ottawa.
As of late, both the media and the major Federal parties have told us that the Senate is broken and must be fixed or abolished. If, as the NDP collector’s’ cards suggest, millions of our tax dollars are being wasted through an inefficient legislative process, shouldn’’t we take a closer look? Shouldn’’t we, as students, inquire as to what is being done? Should we not, find some outlet to express our distaste of inefficient government? After all, they are our tax dollars and future tax dollars that will be wasted.

Every dollar lost through inefficiency now and in the future is one that could have been used to fund something else. As students, as a solidaristic group – —a part of a generation— – who will one day inherit both the power and the problems of Canada, we have to wonder what kind of weight is going to rest on our shoulders if we don’’t engage in issues – — like the current debates over the Senate – —early on in our lives.
Pushing political issues like the Senate to the back of our minds and assuming that the government will iron out the problems, or that they will fix things to our satisfaction, if we simply ignore the issues, is ignorant. With the coming of the 2015 eating contest, senate reform may very well get filed under unfinished business as a wave of new issues stumble across the desks and minds of our politicians. A problem ignored is still a problem. The first step to engaging in politics is to pay attention.